The New International Encyclopædia/Jay

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JAY (OF. jai, gai, gay, Fr. geai, from OF. gai, gay, from OHG. gāhi, Ger. gähe, jähe, quick). A popular English name for a considerable number of birds of the family Corvidæ. They are sometimes separated from the crows as a special subfamily, the Garrulinæ, but it is difficult to define the group satisfactorily. The jays have the wings shorter than the tail, which is long, and rounded, or even graduated, and they are generally, but not always, brightly colored, some shade of blue being very characteristic. But these characters will not serve to distinguish them from the magpies, which are very near allies, the so-called ‘blue magpies’ of the Old World forming an evident connecting link. Jays are smaller than crows and are more distinctly arboreal; when on the ground, they hop. The jays of the Old World belong to distinct genera from those of America, with the single exception of Perisoreus, which is circumpolar.

The bird to which the name ‘jay’ was originally given is the common jay of Europe (Garrulus glandarius), which is somewhat over a foot in length, and beautifully colored, being vinaceous gray varied with black and white, with exquisite black, white, and blue markings on the wings; the head is provided with a conspicuous black-marked crest. It is a common British bird, although its numbers have diminished under the persistent attacks of gamekeepers.

Blue Jay. The best-known American bird of this subfamily is the blue jay {Cyanocitta cristata), which is somewhat smaller than its European cousin, and is provided with equally beautiful plumage. The general color above is purplish-blue, and beneath dusky-white; forehead, and a yoke-shaped band on the sides of the neck and across the upper breast, black; wings and tail blue, beautifully variegated with black and white. The blue jay is found throughout Eastern North America, from Newfoundland and Hudson Bay, south to Florida and the Gulf, and west to the Plains. It breeds throughout its range, and is only partially migratory. As spring approaches the blue jay becomes a quieter, more domestic and retiring bird, and prepares for the breeding season. The nest is well built of twigs and roots, lined with rootlets, and usually placed in a tree in the woods or an old orchard, at some distance from a house. The eggs are four or five in number, brownish-olive or ashy-green, thickly marked with rather indistinct spots of a darker shade. It is during and after the breeding season that the blue jay's worst traits come to light, for then he becomes an inveterate robber of birds' nests, and devours both eggs and young with avidity. At such times he is quiet, sly, and cowardly. Later in the summer insects, nuts, fruits, and seeds form the staples of his diet, and in the winter he will eat almost anything. The notes of the blue jay are numerous and variable; he is a mimic and somewhat of a ventriloquist, but he is not a singer, and most of his cries are harsh and discordant. The blue jay delights in attacking owls and squirrels. While not truly gregarious, blue jays often travel about in small companies, especially during the winter.

Other American Jays. Several other species of jay occur in North America, variously subdivided by ornithologists into a dozen or more subspecies. One of the most distinct and easily recognized species is the Canada jay, ‘whisky-jack,’ or ‘moose-bird’ (Perisoreus Canadensis) , one of the best-known birds of Canada and the North. Utterly unlike the blue jay in appearance (it lacks a crest), its manners and habits are very similar. The plumage is ashy-gray, and only the forehead and throat are white. It becomes very tame about the camps of loggers and trappers in the northern woods, and is famous for the great variety of its notes. It breeds very early in the spring, while there is still much snow on the ground and the weather is very cold. The nest is not unlike that of the blue jay, but the eggs are white, spotted with olive-brown. This species, in one form or another, ranges throughout North America from Labrador to Alaska, south to the northern tier of States, in the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico and Arizona, and on the Pacific Coast to Oregon. The Florida jay (Aphelocoma Floridana) is another crestless jay, but the general color is blue, with more or less white and ashy. It is abundant in Florida, but is wholly confined to that State, although closely allied species occur in the Rocky Mountain region and in California. A well-known and widely distributed Western jay is Steller's jay (Cyanocitta Stelleri), varieties of which are known as the ‘black-headed jay,’

‘blue-fronted jay,’ and ‘long-crested jay.’ These birds are especially characteristic of the Rocky Mountain and Sierra Nevada regions, while the typical form is seen from Oregon to Alaska, replacing the blue jay of the East. These jays have the whole head, neck, and back sooty-blackish or brownish, the remainder of the plumage, blue of some shade, with black markings on the wings. Their habits are similar to those of the Eastern bird. One other North American jay deserves mention, not only because of its beauty, but because it represents a group of jays characteristic of the warmer parts of America, notable for brilliancy of plumage. This is the Rio Grande jay (Xanthoura luxuosa), abundant in some parts of the lower Rio Grande Valley. It is about the size of the blue jay, but has no crest, and the prevailing colors are green above and greenish yellow below, but the sides of the head, the chin, throat and breast, and markings on the wings are black, while the top of the head is rich blue and the forehead is white. The nest and eggs are similar to those of the less gorgeous jays.

Consult: Dresser, Birds of Europe (London, 1879); Newton, Dictionary of Birds (London and New York, 1893-96); Coues, Birds of the Northwest (Washington, 1874); Keyser, Birds of the Rockies (Chicago, 1902).


NIE 1905 Jay - Jays, Magpies, etc.jpg
1. CANADA JAY (Perisoreus Canadensis). 4. MAGPIE (Pica pica)
2. CLARK'S NUTCRACKER (Picicorvus Columbianus).  5. AMERICAN RAVEN (Corvus corax, var. sinuata).
3. BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata). 6. LONG-CRESTED JAY (Cyanocitta Stelleri).